ISTANBUL (AsiaNews) – Unknown assailants have damaged several (Christian) graves in an Armenian cemetery in the district of Tusba, in the province of Van, in the far east of Turkey. Yesterday, Turkish opposition MP Murat Sarisaç, a member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), lodged a complaint and asked for a parliamentary inquiry to be opened on the matter.
The suburb of Kalecik, also known as Lezk, was an Armenian neighbourhood before the 1915 genocide. The Housing Development Agency (TOKI) promoted the construction of several housing units in the area after the devastating 2011 Van earthquake. Local witnesses report that, in recent days, a landowner brought bulldozers to the cemetery and purposely damaged the graves. According to a report by the Mesopotamia Agency (Ma), gravestones and bones were also removed and scattered.
In the images caught on CCTV cameras, MP Murat Sarisaç points out, ‘you can see that the gravestones are damaged and dozens of bones from the cemetery are scattered on the ground’. The HDP member adds that similar incidents have often occurred in Van in the past, confirming that no adequate measures have been taken so far by central and local authorities to “protect monasteries, churches and historical cemeteries”.
“In 2017, a toilet, a dressing room and a car park were built on Dilkaya Tumulus and the Armenian cemetery in Can,” he noted. “Because of treasury hunting and the negligence of the executive authorities, historical and cultural structures in and around Van are damaged.”Sarisaç asked Vice President Fuat Oktay whether an investigation was opened into the incident and why the authorities do not protect Armenian cemeteries and cultural and religious heritage. He also asked about the central government’s position on the vandalism and whether an ‘inventory of Armenian monasteries, churches and other cultural assets in the region’ had been made.
For the minorities, the desecration of the Armenian cemetery is only the latest in a series of controversial episodes, which show disrespect – if not contempt and commercialisation – of religious and cultural heritage. Last January, an ancient Armenian church in Bursa was expropriated and put up for sale online for 800,000 dollars, or the barbeque held in the grounds of another, while in recent months, the conversion of the ancient Christian basilicas of St Sophia and Chora into mosques, which were then museums in the early 20th century under Ataturk, has held court.
These are controversial decisions in the context of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “nationalism and Islam” policy to hide the economic crisis and maintain power. In both buildings the Islamic authorities have covered images of Jesus, frescoes and icons revealing Christian roots with a white curtain.